By PHILIPPA STEVENSON agricultural editor

The Government-elect has promised to return the title "Agriculture" to the lineup of ministerial portfolios, but the agribusiness sector is hoping for more than just cosmetic change.

Labour's agriculture spokesman, Jim Sutton, said the party would respond to farmer requests to banish the unwieldy ministerial title of Food, Fibre and Biosecurity.

"They made it clear they wanted a Minister of Agriculture, and one who is an advocate for the sector," he said yesterday.

Federated Farmers' vice-president, Tom Lambie, said the long name had at least encapsulated agriculture's change to a market-driven industry.

"Yes, go back to 'Agriculture' but make sure we are right up in front in the knowledge-based economy," he said.

"The Labour Party's rural policy stated that, 'the land-based industries remain the cornerstone of our wealth' and Federated Farmers will be expecting the new Government to demonstrate that importance through its policy."

Yesterday, agribusiness speakers all condemned Labour and Alliance plans to alter the Employment Contracts Act and reverse ACC reforms.

Mr Lambie said farmers relished the opportunity to tailor accident compensation to their needs, while the contracts act had delivered a competitive edge and flexibility, without which "you would probably have seen agricultural industries going out the back door."

Mr Sutton stood by the policy but said that if he should be Minister of Agriculture, "I will keep a beady eye on it to make sure our land-based industries are not prejudiced by any changes."

The dairy and meat industries had prepared for a change of Government.

The Dairy Board chairman, Graham Fraser, said the incoming Administration had been fully briefed on the industry's reform process, "and we have strong support for the strategies we are putting in place."

Brian Lynch, the Meat Industry Association executive director, said that in talks begun four months ago Labour had been prepared to listen and had given an assurance of no sudden, cataclysmic changes.

In the important area of trade negotiations, the meat industry was comfortable with Labour's record, he said.

"Offshore, two of the best Ministers of Agriculture in the last 30 years have been [Labour's] Colin Moyle and Jim Sutton for his short term in 1990. Within the industry they are still talked about as being the most professional and efficient, and we have no sliver of concern at all about dealing with Jim Sutton as minister.

"We would expect Labour to implement the policy talked of during the campaign to support the drive towards the added-value, further-processed, market-oriented industry that is emerging, and that we need to compete in the international marketplace," Mr Lynch said.

The chief executive of AgResearch, Keith Steele, was pleased that Labour had a positive research, science and technology policy.

"They tend to want to address the erosion in science funding and restore it to the original target of 0.8 per cent of GDP by 2010."

He said changes in ACC and the contracts act could shake investor confidence and higher personal taxation would make it more difficult to recruit top scientists on an internationally competitive market.